Question: Mandy, what's the primary religion in Tonga?
Someone asked me to answer this question, so I thought I would (especially since the answer is pretty interesting). If you have a question about Tonga or what I'm doing in the South Pacific feel free to email me at beneathabalconyofstars(at)gmail(dot)com or comment on this post and I will answer it.
So let's start with some history: Back in the 1700s there was a man named Captain Cook who sailed a boat and landed in Tonga. Along with his boat, Cook brought Christianity. Today, Christianity is the primary religion of Tonga, but that's not to say that other religions don't exist here. For such a small country (last I checked there are about 107,000 Tongans - which is less than half the size of Madison, Wisconsin), it's interesting to see how many different religions are found in such a small place.
In Tonga, culture and religion are so closely related that it's very hard to talk about one without the other. So much of the culture and community here involves participation in church activities whether it be participating in the choir, women's group, kava circles, youth night, or a koniseti (concert). I've never been asked "Do you go to church?" rather I get asked "Which church do you go to?". Everyone goes to church. Every morning before my students begin their school day they line up under the Tongan flag and say the Lord's Prayer. I work at a GPS (Government Primary School). I wonder what life would be like here if Cook hadn't shown up?
So based on my observations so far, here are the different churches in Tonga and little tidbits about each:
1. Wesleyan* - this religion is the closest to Methodist back in the states and closest to the church I grew up attending.
2. Church of Tonga* - There are 3 different types of Church of Tonga. They all have 1 thing in common - their ministers are passionate. They yell and cry and yell and cry and ... well you get the idea.
3. Mormon Church - Prior to Tonga my only experience with the Mormon religion was a Jon Krakauer book and a viewing of "The Book of Mormon" (the musical). The Mormon Church is located 10 feet from my bedroom window in my village. Their worship services are 3 hours long. The first 2 hours everyone stays together and the last hour everyone separates by age/sex (youth, adult males, adult females, etc.). The Mormon Churches in Tonga are all sparkling and look brand new. There is one in just about every village on this island. They are the most "westernized" buildings I have seen in Tonga so far.
4. City Impact* - This is the most modern church in Tonga. There's a rock 'n roll band, a super active youth group and the service is done in both Tongan and English. It reminds me a lot of the big non-demoninational churches back in the States. They worship down the street from me in a warehouse-style building.
5. Baha'i - Before moving to Tonga I had never heard about the Baha'i Faith. It's relatively new in terms of world religions (created in the mid-1800's). The Baha'i faith believes that all the great masters in history (Buddha, Jesus, Moses, Krishna, etc.) existed and came to Earth at a specific point in time and for a specific purpose. Humanity is evolving and with this evolution comes the need for the message to be conveyed in a specific way to reach many people. All religion, in other words, comes from the same source (God, Universe, whatever you want to call it). The Baha'i faith is about uniting the world as one and they believe that we are moving into a new period in time where this unity will be recognized by all. There is no physical temple/church building that the Baha'i worship in here on Vava'u and there are only a few temples internationally.
6. Catholic* - The Catholics is Tonga have the most beautiful churches. The one down the road from my village sits on top of a hill and is white and blue. You can see it from the water as you sail into the warf, too.
These aren't the only churches. There are more.... they just aren't found in my direct community so I chose not to talk about them.
* denotes Christian**Another side note: I am still learning all about Tongan culture, so what you are about to read is only from my perspective and what I've learned so far. Don't take it as concrete or truth. These are just my opinions and observations.